Arts Desk

International Ink: France, Canada, England, New York, and New Haven

Jacques Tardi's Adèle Blanc-Sec is a longtime favorite French anti-heroine, appearing first in comic books in 1972. She's never quite broken into the English-language market, although four books appeared in English the 1990s. Now in the wake of a movie adaptation appearing in France, Fantagraphics publisher Kim Thompson has translated her first two stories anew. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Vol. 1: Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon (Fantagraphics, $25) is described by the publisher as "Both a rip-roaring adventure series set in pre-World War I Paris and a parody of same." Unfortunately for this reader, the 35 years since these stories first appeared has dated them, even with a new translation. There are interesting hooks, such as a pterosaur hatching in a natural history museum and then visiting terror on Paris, and a lost Assyrian idol with a cult devoted to it. The first book quickly devolves into farce, with Blanc-Sec attempting to recover the loot from a bank robbery while inadvertently being drawn into the dinosaur hunt while being quintuple-crossed by former henchmen wearing black derbies and trench coats along with fake glasses-noses-mustaches; eventually she dons one herself. The over-the-top parody of the monster-hunting adventurer, combined with a whiff of  innate French superiority to the source material, means that this book doesn't quite gel. It may appeal to the extremely casual reader of comics, or  one with deep knowledge and interest, but probably not to a reader who enjoys picking up the latest zombie comic.

Albert and the Others (Drawn & Quarterly, $10) is a series of short "biographical" comic strips by Canadian animator and graphic memoirist Guy Delisle. The wordless volume has strips laid out in 15 small panels per page, and is about 26 men in surrealist situations. The publisher claims "these elastic protagonists risk damnation and dismemberment in a series of improbable slapstick relationships with women, which veer from the titillating to the downright macabre." The art is simple but adequate, and the strips can be amusing: "Isidore" is a naked fisherman who eventually reels in a naked woman, pulls his hook from her mouth with pliers, measures her breasts and bottom, and then tosses her back into the lake. I liked this book well enough, but I'd strongly recommend one of Delisle's travelogues, such as Burma Chronicles, as a much more fulfilling read.

Bryan Talbot is an accomplished British cartoonist who's turned his hand to a variety of genres and produced at least one possible masterpiece in The Tale of One Bad Rat. Talbot recently has started a series of funny animal alternative history albums, set in a steampunk Europe in which Napoleon took over England. Grandville Mon Amour is the second book in his series. Detective Inspector Archie LeBrock is a Sherlock Holmes-like detective (and a large badger) who follows a psychotic serial killer dog from England to Paris (or rather Grandville). In Paris, the dog has begun killing prostitutes, but only those who were at an event in which a large walrus proclaimed his fortune was made, and then died of a heart attack. The secret that the walrus had stolen is held on a recorded wax cylinder, and LeBrock and the killer vie for possession of it. I enjoyed this book more than the Adele Blanc-Sec perhaps because the winking satire (of British boys adventure stories here) isn't rubbed into the reader's face quite so strongly.

The New Yorker Cartoons of the Year ($11) is cartoon editor Bob Mankoff's latest attempt at creating a new format. In this case, Mankoff's created what the annual cartoon issue should be—a collection of the year's cartoons, arranged by the publication date and season. The book is actually a magazine, listed in the indicia as the Nov. 23 issue, but it's 152 pages of cartoons with an index, a new three-page "One Year Cartoon" introduction by Roz Chast and four seasonal color frontispiece paintings by Lee Lorenz. If you like the magazine's gag cartoons, and if a drawing of a man looking up at a sign with a deer silhouette wearing a dress and labeled "Deer X Dressing" (by Danny Shanahan) or one of a filing cabinet with four drawers marked "2009," "2008," "2007," and finally "compost" with a caption of "Organic Filing"' (by Kim Warp) makes you giggle, rush out and pick this up. I found mine at Borders, but it's been a bit hard to locate overall.

Brian Walker is a comics historian and exhibit curator (as well as the writer of his father's strip Hi and Lois). In Doonesbury and the Art of G.B. Trudeau (Yale University Press, $50), he's produced my favorite comics book of the holiday season. Walker gives his readers a biography of Trudeau, a history of the development of the strip, an explanation of inker Don Carlton's role in creating the strip, loads of original art, and even more ephemera (such as Trudeau's business card and the cover to Newsweek's July 31, 1995 issue). I would say that Doonesbury is the best and most important strip of the last third of the twentieth century (yes, I'd put it higher than Calvin & Hobbes because Trudeau's kept up 40 years of  quality). If you don't already own all the collections, you could pick up the new 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective, but if you're a fan of Doonesbury, without question you need to own this book. (As of this writing, Politics & Prose has copies of both books, signed by Trudeau, for sale).

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